Understanding Carbohydrates



There is a stigma around carbohydrates deeming them “bad” and that they should be avoided. That is far from true. Carbohydrates are essential in a healthy diet. They should not be feared, they just need to be understood better.
There are different types of carbohydrates, and the quality rather than the quantity of the carbohydrates are what you should pay most attention to.


In order to understand carbohydrates as “good” vs. “bad” we need to briefly understand what they’re made of and how they breakdown in the body.
Carbohydrates are made up of saccharides (sugars). The simplest form are monosaccharides. These saccharides can then be joined together in different ways to form carbohydrates with anything between two (di-saccharides) and many thousands of six-carbon units (poly-saccharides).
Complex carbs or polysaccharides are carbohydrates with three or more units joined together.  These take longer to digest, so they are better for a slow energy release. These types of carbohydrates are found in vegetables and whole grains which are also high in fiber.


Carbohydrate consumption does not result in fat storage!
Because carbohydrates are made up of sugars, the body breaks them down and insulin is released to store the glucose circulating in your blood. The first place it will be taken to be stored is in the muscle as glycogen. Muscle glycogen is what we use for repeated powerful muscle movements such as running, or weight lifting. Storage in the muscles is limited so the next place for storage is in the liver as liver glycogen which is also limited. After the storage is full in the muscles and liver, excess glucose is stored as adipose tissue which is an unlimited space. So although carbohydrates are good, we still need to be mindful and not go overboard with consumption; this can cause insulin resistance, fat storage, type II diabetes, and heart disease.


High quality carbohydrates are rich in fiber making the digestion of them slower, which improves gut health, decreases appetite, and helps stabilize blood sugar. The National Academies Institute of Medicine recommends that in order to meet the body’s daily nutritional needs, a person’s caloric intake should consist of 45%-65% from carbohydrates, 20%-35% from fat, and 10%-35% from protein.
Examples of quality carbohydrates include plants such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans.


The majority of “bad” carbohydrate consumption comes from highly refined processed foods that strip the carbohydrates of fiber – a very important quality that we need from carbohydrates. These are considered low quality simple carbohydrates/sugars. The low quality carbohydrates break down quickly in the body causing blood sugar levels to rise quickly.  Low quality carbohydrates also cause us to not feel full and satisfied as long as complex carbohydrates. Excessive consumption of these can contribute to weight gain and chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
Examples of low quality carbohydrates would include: refined sugar, white bread,


It is true that most people over consume carbohydrates, especially the wrong kinds. We need to be slightly aware of how many carbohydrates we are consuming, but simple solution to this problem is to focus on the quality of the carbohydrates. Quality carbohydrates that come from vegetables and whole grain unprocessed foods are typically lower in carbohydrate and caloric content while being high in fiber and micronutrients (aka vitamins and minerals). Pay most attention to quality over quantity and you shouldn’t have to worry about carbohydrate consumption.

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The information contained within this program is for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.